The Worker #2 | 29th November 2019

Hey Colleague, 


Welcome to your dose of Diversity First content.

Before I started Diversity First, I worked in healthcare – more precisely, medical devices – as a clinical specialist for over 10 years. I was responsible for teaching surgeons and supporting nurses to prepare and deploy medical devices in, and on, patients during operations. The most complex cases I supported were carotid artery stenting operations. Patients could, at the very worst, suffer from embolic materials floating up into the brain during the procedure, triggering strokes mid-operation and probably causing death. I subconsciously, or even consciously, felt that it was perhaps better to distance myself from the identity of the patient. Perhaps, if something went wrong mid-operation, I could cope with the repercussions of a lost life, a life that I was clinically involved with. Thankfully, nothing of the sort happened on my watch. 


Because of this fear, I never permitted myself to know the identity of the patient. The patient on the operating table was indeed someone's mother/father, aunt/uncle, daughter/son, sibling or other family member; but the detachment remained... Just whom I was helping remained unknown to me, largely through my choice, but also because of the norms, values and beliefs that so often guide our behaviours in our working environments.


I mention my seemingly irrelevant work history because it strikes me that there are many similarities in the field of diversity. So often, in this work, those we aim to help are compelled to compromise on their individuality because we squeeze them into categories. Like the patient on the operating table, who is categorised by their disease state, so too are individuals categorised, based on observable features of their identity. The effect of this constraint is that we belong to a society, not as individuals, but as members of collective entities. Moreover, the way in which individuals respond to our questions is often not natural to them. Individuals must contort their conscious selves into categories: husband/wife, father/mother, manager/subordinate, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and/or LGBTIQ+ are just a few examples. While marginal groups may experience temporary salience in the minds of others because we apply such categories, it is our duty as practitioners to look beyond the categorisations which we often (with good intentions) apply; by looking beyond, we remove the distance between our work and those we assist, in order to see those individuals for the people they truly are – unique, creative agents with much, often unrealised, potential. Perhaps Wirth says it best "the urban world puts a premium on visual recognition. We see the uniform which denotes the role of the functionaries and are oblivious to the personal eccentricities that are hidden beneath" (1938:55).


Wirth, L. (1938). Urbanism as a Way of Life. American journal of sociology, 44(1), 1-24.


1. Presentations of interest

In August 2019, I was honoured to make a presentation, Bringing my Whole Self to Work, at Brisbane City Council's Annual Inclusive Leadership Conference.


As always, I delivered my keynote with the marginal in mind. I discussed important academic research by Erving Goffman, including the concept of "front stage" and "back stage" dramaturgical performances.


Here is an excerpt from my keynote:


If any of you know the highly regarded work of Sociologist Erving Goffman, you’ll have a good idea about what I am referring to when I say “it’s a challenge to bring your whole-self to work.” Goffman explains that, in everyday encounters at work, you’ll know that there is a “front stage” where you must act in accordance to cultural and social standards, and the “back stage” where you can show more of yourself with your trusted “few.” Typically, the “back stage” is where one is better able to psychologically relax and remove some of the impression management layers of behaviour, because the perceived risk of judgement is lower in comparison to the “front stage.” This is not a new phenomenon. This has been the way humans across the globe have operated, becoming masters of impression management in accordance to the social and cultural standards of the society we live in.


You might like to listen to the full keynote here. 


While my talks often result in polarising views, it is always pleasant to hear positive feedback from senior leadership:


It was fabulous to hear your keynote yesterday and at one point I think I was nodding so hard I must have looked a bit crazy. I learned so much. It was an honour to be part of the panel with you, too. 


Tash Tobias, Executive Leader, Customer Experience, People and Culture


The speaker's advice was powerful for me, in that it led me to re-examine the OS strategic plan for 2019–24 and actually mark out which of the points are aligned with inclusion actions, so I can be particularly aware of these. 




2. In the media

Institute of Managers and Leaders Leadership Matters – Overcoming Unconscious Bias


Recently, I was interviewed by the Institute of Managers and Leaders (IML) for an article by Derek Parker, “Overcoming Unconscious Bias.” This article is now printed in IML's December 2019 edition of Leadership Matters. You might like to receive a full copy of the magazine or to read the online article (links below).


My overall view is that training in unconscious bias is generally nothing more than a “tick the box” approach to managing cognitive deficiencies. Behaviours are highly resistant to change. Mindfulness training is, in my opinion, more appropriate if we are to collectively transcend erroneous patterns of thinking, including our own biases. Do not be mistaken; transcending our biases is incredibly difficult. 


To read the full article click here

To read the article via IML click here


3. Worth thinking about...

In a complex world of stories, it is useful to imagine that the little stories we hear day-in and day-out relate to bigger stories, some of which may be the big story of the experience in view, bringing on board issues of discourse, power, influence and globalisation. 


Jay Gubrium